Culinary tours through Curacao

This island’s culinary scene is as eclectic and colorful as its historic Handelskade, so you’ll find flavors from all around the world waiting to satisfy every craving and dining style.

The port as a melting pot

Curacao’s deep-water harbor and its strategic location were the impetus behind its popularity as an ideal hub for trade and defense throughout the centuries. People from all over the world passed through this crossroads of the Caribbean and often left behind traces of their cultures and cuisines. And sometimes they stayed! Today, there are over 50 nationalities calling Curacao home, so it is no wonder the dining scene is such a kaleidoscope of flavors and styles.

Take your palate on a global tour

Curacao’s creative chefs delight in fusing flavors, and they often compete as a team in the annual Taste of the Caribbean competitions – a culinary Olympics of sorts – hosted by CHTA (Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association) in Miami. And they often bring back gold! But when at home they compete against each other to continually raise the bar of culinary excellence so it’s the diner that always wins!

Prepare your taste buds for a whirlwind tour of the world in establishments that specialize in all kinds of different cuisines. Dutch, Italian, Latin American, Asian, Mexican, French, Lebanese, Mediterranean, Indonesian, Surinamese, even African… the sky is the limit. You’ll also enjoy fine American-style steakhouses, trendy Asian sushi bars, Spanish tapas as well as Brazilian- and Argentinean-style grills, Caribbean- style barbecue and of course, seafood and fresh fish.

Discover true foodie neighborhoods

For those who like their gourmet explorations all within easy walking distance, then Pietermaai neighborhood is the ideal place to begin. There you will find all kinds of interesting, avant-garde, and offbeat nooks where you can expand your culinary horizons. The district is jam-packed with everything from seaside South Beach-style dining to Dutch-style brown bar cafés, and family-run restaurants specializing in local fare. There’s even a dining spot in an old monastery, and the entire neighborhood is awash in beautifully restored colonial buildings.

”Downtown Punda also has a bevy of beautiful historic sites, perches, and courtyards where you can enjoy a wide range of epicurean experiences.”

Dine along the historic Handelskade where you can watch the ships go by, and don’t forget to visit the unique Floating Market to try exotic fruits and vegetables.

Local eats and secret finds

True foodies always want to try authentic, regional dishes, so start at Plasa Bieu (Old Market) in Willemstad to try some stobas (stews) and sopas (soups) that make up a typical Curacaoan meal. The stews are usually made from goat, chicken, or beef, and served with sides of funchi  (a cornmeal polenta), and tutu (black-eyed peas and cornmeal), and fried plantains. The soups can range from seafood chowder to tripe (mondongo), and “slimy soup” is also a unique, native dish made with either okra or even cactus! And do try keshi yena when you see it on a menu in any dining spot. This national dish is a rich combination made with Gouda cheese, meat or seafood, rice, raisins, spices, and peppers.

Venezuelan and Indonesian influences have also taken deep root here; look for lomito and fries or bami and sate with peanut sauce in the take-outs and truki pans (food trucks). Pastechis are also a fast-food favorite of fried dough pockets filled with meat, seafood, or cheese. For a really special treat head out to Shete Boka on a Sunday to try pumpkin pancakes from the roadside stands.

Of course, fresh fish and seafood is a Curacao staple; catch-of-the-day is served everywhere, and when it’s done krioyo (local) style it’s typically pan-fried with a rich, red creole-style sauce. Also look for lionfish on the menus. The invasive species is a threat to the reefs, so “Eat ’Em to Beat ’Em” is the motto, and their meat is very light and delicate and amenable to all sorts of culinary experimentations.

Fine emporiums & unique experiences

Sometimes it’s as much about where you dine as what you eat that makes an occasion extra special, and this island has all kinds of lovely venues bound to satisfy every mood. How about dining in a historic fort overlooking the port? Or how about feasting in a man-made rainforest jungle surrounded by animals? You can also indulge in many beautifully resorted century-old plantation houses in lush gardens, or in historic urban mansions turned bespoke dining rooms.

There are many cliff-top perches overlooking wild and restless seas, and definitely, romantic toes-in-the-sand surfside dining on the beach also abounds. Family dining can include extra fun if you head to a super-sized, air-conditioned mall with lots of entertainment like movies and arcades. There are many specialty shops dotted around the island with gourmet cheeses, local spirits, as well as homemade ice cream and gelato; in fact, the entire courtyard of the Rif Fort is a bonanza of foodie finds all in one spot.

You can also enjoy eating on terraces with live music or beside resort infinity pools. And many hotels will arrange private dinners for two on the beach or gourmet picnics to go. For the ultimate epicurean treat, seek out the special chef’s choice three- to five-course dinners paired with fine wines offered at upscale dining emporiums and sample the very best of Curacao’s culinary talent.

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By Susan Campbell